Ask the Gardener: Eager for spring? What you can do now

Ask the Expert Gardening
A touch of springtime indoors during the Boston Flower Show at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston in 2019. David L. Ryan/Globe staff/File

Is it spring yet? Astronomers say spring will arrive at exactly 11:50 p.m. on March 19. That is the spring equinox, when night and day are nearly the same length. After that, the days grow longer. Meteorologists count March 1 as the first day of spring.

But I don’t feel spring arrives here for gardeners until April, which is when you can start digging in the ground and planting perennials, woodies, and frost-tolerant vegetables and annuals.

So what can you do when you have cabin fever in March? I tell people to start cutting down and cleaning up the garden on warm days. (I hope you left brown perennials up over the winter as food and cover for the birds.) Repair outdoor furniture. Condition and sharpen gardening tools. Prune broken branches, including forsythia that you can bring inside and force into bloom. (That means put them in a vase of water. No bullying required.)

March requires restraint. Minimize steps in the garden, and even the lawn, because this is mud season, and wet footprints can compress soil structure and damage plant roots.

With global warming strengthening each year, there will be more very early warm days. Some days will feel like spring, but the soil has to dry out before you can dig in it, and sprouting seeds depend on slowly warming soil temperatures. So busy yourself with starting seeds indoors now or planting in outdoor containers using purchased soil-less mix and very tough cold-hardy plants such as pansies and broccoli. (It annoys me how many garden centers sell annuals before it’s warm enough for them to survive outdoors.)

One prescient project to help protect your crops from climate change’s wacky weather might be building or buying raised beds. Springs are becoming wetter, and flooding more common, so why not elevate your crops above ground level? You also could choose beds that can accommodate row covers made of reinforced polyethylene to help insulate crops from plummeting temperatures erratically interspersed with warmish weather. I also think that as rainfall grows more erratic, built-in irrigation will become a must. Look into installing the kind you can turn on or off with your cellphone when you’re not home.

Another solution to spring fever is the Boston Flower Show, which runs Wednesday through next Sunday (March 11-15) at Seaport World Trade Center. This year’s theme is “Garden Party: Celebrating Friends & Family,’’ so outdoor entertainment areas will be on display in large professional landscapes. Though the show has become more commercial, with aisles of vendors selling garden-related items, don’t miss the substantial volunteer activity in the rear of the hall. The Massachusetts Horticultural Society still runs competitions displaying wonderful amateur flower arrangements, garden photography, and homegrown plants in which anyone can win a blue ribbon. The Boston chapter of Ikebana International also exhibits large seasonal arrangements.

Tickets for the Tuesday Preview Party (6-9 p.m.) are $100-$125 and benefit the Genesis Foundation for Children. The rest of the week, tickets are $12 for children and $22 for adults. If you don’t qualify for senior tickets ($19), I think the best deal is to go Saturday night (5-9 p.m.) when you the rate is $19. Visit or call 800-258-8912 for more information.

Flowers also can be found at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, which is hosting its annual Orchid Show through the end of March at 11 French Drive in Boylston. General admission is $16. Visit or call 508-869-6111.

Still looking for spring? If the weather is decent, Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum will conduct a free family nature hike on Sunday, March 15, at 2 p.m. Meet inside the main gate at 125 Arborway in Jamaica Plain to search for early flowers, insects, and birdsong.

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